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For the first time in 31 years, San Gabriel High School boys volleyball head coach Chris Kwan will not be returning to coach for his alma mater.
After learning that his physical education (P.E.) teaching position would not be renewed for the 2016-17 school year, Kwan decided that this year would be his last year coaching the varsity boys volleyball, despite being league champions for the entire last decade.
As Kwan’s evaluator, Principal Debbie Stone has confirmed that it was her decision to release Kwan from his teaching job.
“My primary role is to evaluate on his teaching,” Stone said. “These decisions weigh heavily on me and my office. I am just working on what is good for the P.E. department.”
Still, many teachers feel that Kwan was quite proficient at his job.
“As department head, I thought that [Kwan] was a good fit,” P.E. teacher Jon Keller said. “But I don’t make personnel decisions.”
Stone wanted to let the students know that Kwan’s nonrenewable contract was because of his teaching evaluations and had no effect toward his coaching position.
“Whatever he does is his decision,” Stone said. “Teaching is completely separate from coaching.”
Yet, Kwan believes that there is no point in continuing his coaching position if he could not also teach at San Gabriel.
“I was given the impression that after one of my evaluations my principal said that coaching is an at-will position,” Kwan said in an interview with Pasadena Star-News. “I took that as basically you’re telling me you could take that away from me, too.”
However, the reason of Kwan’s dismissal is still largely unknown to the vast majority, including Kwan himself.
“I have no idea,” Kwan said. “I don’t want to make any assumptions or guesses because I don’t know.”
When asked about the decision to let him go, Stone said that it was between her and Kwan.
“I don’t want to compromise a teacher’s confidentiality,” she said. “I will not speak on what he won’t say for himself.”
Teaching P.E. for only a year, Kwan was classified as a “probationary” employee. Because of this status, Kwan could be non-renewed for the next school year without a hearing, if he was told before March 15, according to California Educational Code policies. Therefore, administration can still deliver a non-renewable contract despite the results from evaluations.
Nevertheless, most of the volleyball players are still outraged over the logic behind Stone’s decision, one of whom is Tommy Liung, captain of the varsity boys volleyball squad.
“Honestly I just feel so bad for [Coach Chris Kwan] because now he has to leave the program. It’s just like a huge loss because of everything he’s done for us,” Liung said. “We were hoping that we’ll come back [after graduating] and leave the gym how we entered, with [Kwan] here and everything. I don’t know, it’s just hard. It sucks and we’re gonna miss him a lot.”
Many students of San Gabriel High are taking to social media to express their opinions. On social media, students tagged the the hashtag “#keepkwan” or “#keepthekwan” with their responses in support of Chris Kwan.
“To the one that keeps me in check on and off the court when my mom isn’t around,” junior Ethan Chan wrote. “Thanks for impacting my first two years of high school. #keepkwan.”
Students also showed their disappointment in Principal Stone by tagging “#thanksdebby” over Twitter.
“I will forever be grateful for SGVB regardless of what happens. #keepkwan #thanksdebby.” senior Vicky Ong wrote.
Alumni are also aiding in support of Coach Kwan and Coach Larry Kanow by sending letters to Supt. Tellez-Gagliano, the school board, and the administration consisting of pleas of consideration or criticism of the administration. Many of the alumni are in their 30s and 40s and have successful careers, crediting the teachings and influence of Kanow and Kwan.
One alumnus, attorney and entrepreneur Nhu Muon-Lalwani, class of 1999, posted her letter on this issue in a Facebook comment on The Matador page, addressed to Principal Debbie Stone, Supt. Dr. Laura Tellez-Gagliano, School Board President Patricia Rodriguez-Mackintosh, School Board Vice President Mrs. Jane Anderson, School Board Clerk Mrs. Joanne Russell-Chavez, School Board Member Mrs. Adele Andrade-Stadler, and School Board Member Mr. Robert Gin.
“It is my understanding that you selected not to extend Coach Kwan’s position as a teacher. It is also my understanding that you made this decision despite support from SGHS’ department head, past and present athletic directors, fellow colleagues, and students who supported Coach Kwan’s teaching contract be extended,” Muon-Lalwani said. “I do not understand how your decision is logical or beneficial to the students of SGHS.”
At the Spring Pep Rally, the volleyball team paid tribute to Kwan wearing white shirts and black pants, and holding signs that read: “#KEEPKWAN”, “ONE TEAM, ONE DREAM”, and “FAMILY STICKS TOGETHER.”
“We held this event in order to bring attention to this topic,” senior Joanna Che said. “I mean, he’s been here for over 20 years. He’s an important figure to the past, the present, and the future. He’s Chris Kwan. We have to do something.”
Even after spreading awareness about Kwan’s situation at the Spring Pep Rally, some volleyball players and alumni are not going to let this decision go without a fight.
Senior and varsity volleyball player Amy Pham met with Principal Stone on March 8, and said that Stone explained that nothing could be done about this situation.
“She kept saying that the decision is final since it goes up to the district to decide and her hands are tied,” Pham said. “She said that she couldn’t do anything about it.”
However, after a meeting with Supt. Tellez-Gagliano on March 18, Pham said that Tellez-Gagliano said that the only one who is able to revoke this decision was the evaluator herself, in this case, Principal Stone. Current volleyball players Nicole Nguyen and Vicky Ong, P.E. teacher Michele Buchicchio, and Assistant Principal Jeannie Gutierrez also attended the meeting.
According to Pham, Tellez-Gagliano also said that the decision for Kwan was final, due to the approval of the school board.
“Something’s not right around here,” Pham said. “Someone just doesn’t want to take the heat.”
In an email to The Matador, Tellez-Gagliano said, “Please understand that we have more information than you have. The information is confidential. When this decision goes to the Board of Education, the recommendation is supported with sound rationale. Our decisions are always based on what is best for our students. I understand that some students do not agree with this decision. I respect their opinion.”
In addition to the student and alumni support, some teachers are also challenging administration’s decision.
After 36 years at the school and winning 33 league champions, longtime coach, Larry Kanow announced on March 14 that he will be resigning from coaching varsity girls volleyball in the following school year in protest of Stone’s decision. Coaches Tiffany Ha and Justin Delgado resigned from their coaching positions as well.
On his decision to resign, Kanow said, “I kind of just like do things on my own. Everyone has to make their own decisions in life.”
With the two youngest coaches on the volleyball squad following in Kanow’s footsteps, Kanow says that it would be a “big loss” to the volleyball community in San Gabriel.
“I would never tell any other coaches to quit whatsoever, but I think it’s sad,” Kanow said. “Tiffany and Justin are remarkable coaches for their age and have both just won tournaments with kids that do not know how to play until [high school] against kids that already know how to play [since they were young]. So I think it’s sad that they aren’t going to be in athletics anymore. It’s a personal decision and what they do is what they do.”
Coach Kanow disclosed even though his coaching days may be finished, he may still not be done with teaching at San Gabriel.
“I know what I’m going to do,” Kanow said. “I just don’t want to say.”
As for Coach Chris Kwan, his stay at San Gabriel High School will conclude at the end of the year. Despite a dominating coaching reputation winning 17 league champions in his 21 years of coaching, Kwan’s next steps in life are uncertain.
“It’s the first time in 30 years [where] I don’t know what I’m going to do during the summer because I’ve always been here as a student. I was here playing sports all summer and then, when I graduated, I started coaching, and so for the first time, I don’t know what to do,” Kwan said. “So I figure I’ll look for a job, enjoy life, and you know, try and have some fun.”
As for the students who are still in the volleyball program, Kwan leaves some gems of wisdom behind.
“Hang in there and keep working hard,” he said. “Just give the next coach what [you] always gave us because, you know, we have good kids.”
The volleyball team and alumni will express their views at the next school board meeting on Tuesday, March 22 at 6 pm.